IRVING, Texas - Four years ago, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins had a healthy training-camp competition for the starting cornerback spot.
Both were second-year players, although Jenkins was a first-round pick and Scandrick was a fifth-rounder who turned many heads during his rookie year.
Jenkins won the competition that year, while Scandrick was relegated to the third cornerback role.
On Thursday, both of them will be starters, although Scandrick has remained with his original team while Jenkins' career included some turmoil and drama last year, eventually putting him in Oakland where he has become one of the Raiders' better defensive players.
Position rivals on Thursday, Jenkins and Scandrick remain good friends. In fact, Scandrick said he trades phone calls and texts with the former Cowboys cornerback on a regular basis. [embedded_ad]
While Jenkins won the competition battle in 2009 and ended the season as a Pro Bowler, Scandrick is the one still around. He says the Cowboys deciding on a contract extension for him before Jenkins might have played a big factor in the fact he's still around.
"My contract expired before him. Obviously, he had two years left," said Scandrick, who signed a five-year, $27 million extension before the 2011 season. "That's just the business. At the time I was getting the extension, it might have cost the team a little more money, more than they were willing to spend at the time. It's just how it played out. I think we were both good. I think we could've been here together for a long time. That didn't happen."
As for Jenkins, who talked to the Dallas-Fort Worth media via conference call Tuesday, said there is no animosity between the two, and seemed put off by a question of being envious of Scandrick.
"Why would I be envious of Orlando? That's like one of my best friends, first of all, off the field, to this day. I would never be envious of Orlando Scandrick," Jenkins said. "First of all, I came in on top. I came in as a first-round draft pick. There's no reason for me to be envious. I was the starting corner for five or four years with the Dallas franchise. There was no reason for me to be envious of Orlando Scandrick out of anybody. I have no problems with anybody on the team, no players. I love all those guys like brothers."
"Definitely happy for him. What other feelings would I have for him?"
Regardless of any comparisons to Jenkins, or Terence Newman – another cornerback from whom Scandrick learned a lot and still talks to regularly – there is no denying he's playing the best football of his six-year career.
Scandrick virtually shut down Giants receiver Victor Cruz in a one-on-one matchup last Sunday. Cruz caught two catches, only one against Scandrick, who ripped the ball away from him for a 50-yard touchdown return by Jeff Heath.
Cruz told reporters in New York that Scandrick held him all game and never got flagged for it.
"I know it might have felt like it was two guys on him, or a double-team, but what I say to that is, I didn't have one penalty," Scandrick said in response. "He can say what he wants to say, I have the utmost respect for him. The guy's a worker, and I know I'm going to have to see him twice a year. He's a good player."
But Scandrick is proving he's pretty good, too.
And Sunday's game is just another example of the play Scandrick has shown all season, dating back to the start of training camp. Even though he had some erratic play at times earlier in his career, Scandrick said his goal of improving each day has never changed.
"I'm just better. I'm not going to stay the same. Nothing stays the same," Scandrick said of his evolvement. "I think everybody forgets that when I came in, I didn't get time to sit back and learn. Everything I do is learning on the fly. I was playing nickel my first year and my second year I was competing for a starting job, which it actually came down to the season to who they determined was the starter. The guy who basically beat me out [Jenkins] went to the Pro Bowl that year, so people are going to say what they're going to say. Criticism is going to be criticism."
However, just like Scandrick said he tried to ignore the criticism earlier in his career, he has to treat the sudden praise the same way.
"My job is to come here and play. I didn't worry about what you guys thought about me when I (supposedly) wasn't 'living up to my contract or living up to the player everybody thought I was." Scandrick said. "Now I'm focused. It's like tunnel vision. I'm just looking up the next opponent and trying to be consistent and do it again next week."
Coach Jason Garrett has always said Scandrick has more than just a chip on his shoulder, but more "like a boulder." The cornerback doesn't disagree. He's been told all of his life he was too small to play in the NFL or too short to be a good cornerback.
"You can always dig and get motivation from everyone," Scandrick said. "I'm a guy that that helps me with my motivation and it gives me something to look forward to. That's the way I live my life. I always have something to prove. I always have a goal. I'm never content and I'm always striving for the best, excellence."
Just last week, Scandrick said the words of Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, who is an analyst on ESPN's Sunday Countdown, provided extra motivation for the game. Ditka said the Cowboys didn't have a player who could match up with Cruz.
Scandrick went out and dominated the matchup. And it's those type of performances that has his current defensive coordinator making comparisons to a potential Hall of Famer.
"Orlando is really having an outstanding year," said Monte Kiffin, who coached 13 years in Tampa Bay. "He never comes off the field. He's great. He really is. I like him. He loves to play, and he goes in the nickel, he does a good job. We do it with Orlando the same way we did it with Ronde Barber. Ronde started outside and Ronde slid inside."
Just like Barber, who went to five Pro Bowls, Kiffin said Scandrick is having the type of year that could land him in Hawaii.
"I know somebody happened to mention last week on the plane after the game, somebody made a statement that slot corners, nickel corners, don't make the Pro Bowl," Kiffin said. "Well, he's not just a nickel corner. He plays outside, too. He's a starter outside. He has been all year. He moves in to play the nickel. Now that's even harder than just being a corner outside all day long and starting every game and never coming off the field."
Playing in the slot for most of his career, Scandrick knows it's harder to prove himself as an elite player because slot guys typically give up more receptions. Then again, he knows pleasing his critics will always be an uphill battle.
"Yeah, but I don't think anybody cares. I think they just want the end result, and the end result is, you give up a first down, 'you suck. Replace you.'" He said. "I mean, I live by the saying, 90 percent of the people don't care about your problems and the other 10 percent is happy that you got them." These days, the only real problems Scandrick has are the ones he's dishing out to opposing receivers.